Casting Lady Gaga opposite Bradley Cooper for the lead role in the 2018 remake of “A Star Is Born” was a coup for Warner Bros. But with the singer opting to use her real name, Stefani Germanotta, as her credit in the film, what does it mean for the studio’s marketing efforts and ultimate reach?
The oh-so-Hollywood take from inside the lot, according to a source, is that “there’s something appropriate about Gaga being credited as Stefani in the role of an unknown ingenue being discovered and turned into a star.” That would explain why she went by her stage name in 2016’s “American Horror Story: Roanoke” and previous movie appearances in “Machete Kills” (2013) and “Muppets Most Wanted” (2014), but what about recognition among a wide swath of mainstream moviegoers? Her “huge presence as Lady Gaga will be obvious to audiences,” adds the insider. (Worth noting: In press notes for “A Star Is Born,” the studio uses both names when referring to the artist — once in parentheses and again with the modifier “known across the globe as Oscar-nominated music superstar Lady Gaga,” the latter of which seems too long and wordy for key art like a movie poster.)
Gaga, who is managed by Bobby Campbell and represented by Kenny Meiselas of Grubman Shire & Meiselas, has yet to explain her decision, but a source close to the 31-year-old multihyphenate offers that it’s a way to separate the actress from the pop star. Indeed, she wouldn’t be the first to do so. From the wrestler formerly known as The Rock (now Dwayne Johnson and commanding top billing, as he did in the $1 billion-grossing blockbuster “Fate of the Furious”) to the man of multiple monikers — Puff Daddy and Diddy among them — known in film and theater as Sean Combs, recent successful crossover stories tend to recognize the actor as a real person.
Lana Walker, a longtime rep for rapper Ludacris, who also appears in the “Fast and Furious” films and was an ensemble cast member in “Crash” (2006’s Academy Award best picture winner), maintains that making the call comes down to one word: Oscar. “I said it more than once: Ludacris won’t win an Oscar. Chris Bridges can.”
Walker’s clients have included Queen Latifah, Janet Jackson, and rapper Machine Gun Kelly, who clearly subscribes to this policy. Though he boasts a massive radio hit (“Bad Things,” featuring Camila Cabello), he goes by Colson Baker for acting gigs (like upcoming Rupert Wyatt feature “Captive State,” and a previous role in the Cameron Crowe Showtime series “Roadie”). “Colson is like a blank slate to me,” Baker tells Variety. “I made him into Machine Gun Kelly for 10 years, and when I’m doing music that’s the only personality the fans should see. However as an actor, [Machine Gun Kelly] shouldn’t be a distraction from the many other characters I can become.”
It wasn’t always so. In the 1980s, Madonna (née Madonna Ciccone), Sting (Gordon Sumner), and Prince (Prince Rogers Nelson) all used their one-name stage personas in film credits, though Cherilyn Sarkisian didn’t win best actress for “Moonstruck” in 1988 — Cher did. David Weitzner, a former Grey Advertising executive and the current Mark Burnett Endowed Chair at USC, says that times — and publicity — have changed. “The reality is, the most prominent publicity is going to be electronic,” he says. “It’s going to be television; we’re going to see [Lady Gaga] and hear her. There’ll be no mistaking who it is. It’s up to the marketing to establish that she’s doing this and why.”
With additional reporting by Steve Baltin and Gordon Cox